Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final was full of controversy, skill and tries – a fitting end to a season awash with just those things. Here are our end-of-season awards for the 2012/2013 season.
Players of the season: Julian Salvi and Samu Manoa
Teammate Tom Youngs grabbed the award at the official dinner, but for us Salvi is a marginally more worthy winner, not least because he didn’t miss large chunks of the season away on international duty (although that is a tad unfair to blame on Youngs). Salvi’s importance is paramount to the Tigers – his foraging ability at the tackle area is second to none and he has added a handy ball-carrying element to his game this season. He has also managed to curb his penchant for giving away silly penalties – something that blighted his career for years.
It is a bit of a cop-out naming two players, but Samu Manoa has been too brilliant to ignore. He is a one-man bulldozer at times, and his combination with Courtney Lawes gives Saints one of the nastiest and hardest-hitting forward duos in the league – just ask Toby Flood. Having grown up on the streets in America, he is a rugby success story too. We all (opposition players excluded) hope to see plenty more of him next season.
Breakthrough players of the season: Elliot Daly and Christian Wade
One of these guys is at last getting his chance with England this summer – how the other isn’t a mystery to many. This Wasps duo has been terrorising the outside channels all season, and a highlight reel of some of the individual tries they have scored would make for highly entertaining viewing. Wasps and England need to decide where Daly’s best position is, and allow him to settle there – at the moment he risks going down the road of many a talented back before him (Mat Tait springs to mind), who have been shunted around the backline until even they are unsure of where they belong.
And what else can be said about Christian Wade than hasn’t been already? From the opening day of the season, when he left George Lowe for dead in a five metre channel, he has been gliding through defences to score tries he has no right to. He is probably the most exciting talent to come through the English ranks since Jason Robinson. A quick mention for Will Fraser and Matt Kvesic, who look set to battle for the England open side spot for years to come.
Tries of the season:
1. Dan Bowden (Leicester v Saracens)
For team participation, Bowden’s effort wins try of the season hands down. It had everything: pace, power, slick hands and the deftest of chips from George Ford to finish it off.
2. Ben Youngs (Bath v Leicester)
For opportunism and individual brilliance it is hard to argue with Youngs’ effort against Bath. Awareness and pace took him through the initial defence, before he bamboozled fullback Oli Devoto with some dazzling footwork.
3. Christian Wade (Wasps v Harlequins)
Wade’s first game of the season was a sign of things to come, as he beat opposite man George Lowe in a phone box.
Coaching team of the season: Richard Cockerill and Matt O’Connor
This is a bit of a controversial one, because Richard Cockerill is far from everyone’s cup of tea. However, love him or loathe him it is tough to deny that he, ably aided by trusty Aussie sidekick Matt O’Connor, has steered the Tigers ship superbly well again this year. With a group of players that perhaps lacked a few of the stellar names of recent years, and with club stalwarts like Geordan Murphy and Louis Deacon on the decline, these two have done superbly well to get the Tigers across the line for a record tenth time in the professional era.
What is perhaps more impressive, however, is that the Tigers have become a joy to watch and a far cry from the days when they simply beat teams into submission with their forwards – and it is for that reason that both Cockerill and O’Connor are mentioned here, because it is the Aussie’s influence that has got them playing an attractive brand of rugby again. He will be sorely missed by all at Welford Road.
Underachievers: Sale Sharks
A no-brainer. Stellar signings in the off season the likes of Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray, last season’s top try scorer in Rob Miller and a new coach at the helm in Bryan Redpath all pointed to a return to the upper echelons of the Premiership for Sale. What happened was the polar opposite, as they found themselves embroiled in a relegation battle with both sets of Exiles (London Irish were a close second for this award). It will be fascinating to see how they rebuild during the off-season, and if they can bounce back from this.
Overachievers: Exeter Chiefs
People seem to expect the Chiefs to finish near the top of the table these days, but when you consider their squad that expectation seems warped. They are bound by a club spirit the likes of which no other team can claim; that is how they continue to defy the odds and show up teams with bigger budgets and more famous names. Heineken Cup Rugby awaits for them next season, and the Sandy Park faithful can look forward to welcoming some of the continent’s biggest names to Devon once again. Special mention should go to London Welsh, who were criminally (quite literally) unlucky to fall foul of one man’s poor judgement and suffer relegation more or less because of it. The Premiership will be worse off without them.
Team of the season
To round it off, here is our team of the season, made more or less of the players who featured most often in our teams of the week (certainly we think it bears more resemblance to an actual line-up of the best players, as opposed to the ‘official’ one that was more a popularity contest on Twitter).
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
2. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
3. Halani Aulika (London Irish)
4. Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers)
5. Christian Day (Northampton Saints)
6. Sione Kalamafoni (Gloucester)
7. Julien Salvi (Leicester Tigers)
8. Samu Manoa (Northampton Saints)
9. Danny Care (Harlequins)
10. Gareth Steenson (Exeter Chiefs)
11. Christian Wade (London Wasps)
12. Anthony Allen (Leicester Tigers)
13. Joel Tomkins (Saracens)
14. Tom Varndell (London Wasps)
15. Nick Abendanon (Bath Rugby)
16. Rob Buchanan (Harlequins)
17. Soane Tonga’uiha (Northampton Saints)
18. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
19. Steve Borthwick (Saracens)
20. Akapusi Qera (Gloucester)
21. Haydn Thomas (Exeter Chiefs)
22. Freddie Burns (Gloucester)
23. Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)
Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you back for a bigger and better 2013/2014 season!
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43